Screen shot 2011-03-04 at 7.27.36 PM.pngBeing up early here in Istanbul (Morning Prayer call is 5:30 AM and the Minaret is 100 meters away), this press release from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) dropped into my inbox:

MDH and MDA are working with counterparts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and federal agencies to investigate cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection associated with eating in-shell hazelnuts (also known as filberts) purchased from bulk bins at retail food stores. Three cases have been identified in Minnesota, three in Wisconsin, and one in Michigan.

In Minnesota, all three cases were male and over 50 years of age. Cases were residents of Hennepin, Redwood, and Stearns counties. Two were hospitalized. All have recovered.

Hazelnuts.jpgRoutine monitoring by the health departments in the respective states identified E. coli O157:H7 cases with the same DNA fingerprint. The individuals became ill between December 20, 2010, and January 28, 2011. All of the cases have reported eating in-shell hazelnuts from grocery stores. Of these, six purchased them from bulk bins at these stores and the other case reported purchasing similar product in a repacked form. Four of the cases reported purchasing the hazelnuts as part of mixed nuts.

Agriculture agencies in the three states and the California Department of Public Health traced hazelnuts consumed by cases to a common distributor in California, DeFranco and Sons. This firm has recalled all hazelnut and mixed nut products distributed from November 2, 2010, to December 22, 2010. Recalled product was shipped to stores in Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

It also got me thinking about the roasted chestnuts I bought on the street yesterday (see picture above).

  • John Munsell

    This is a superlative example of the usefulness of tracebacks to the origin, which so far is DeFranco and Sons, a California distributor. Should every distributor of hazelnuts in America be forced to recall all their hazelnuts? No. Of course, the immediate problem faced by DeFranco and Sons is to determine which farm(s) unwittingly contaminated their hazelnuts. It may be impossible, but one alternative is for nut distributors to segregate nuts from their various nut supplier farms. Another alternative, which is used in some foods such as spices and some imported fruit, is to irradiate the nuts.
    We are fortunate that authorities have successfully traced back to the nut distributor involved in this outbreak, which has enabled a recall of hazelnuts elsewhere in commerce which could cause additional sicknesses.
    And what is it about Minnesota health officials? For the last five years or so, Minnesota officials have been uncanny in their epidemiological acumen, successfully determining the cause of outbreaks, and to traceback to common sources. These Minnesota professionals know the full value of tracebacks, to the advantage of MN citizens.
    John Munsell

  • “Of course, the immediate problem faced by DeFranco and Sons is to determine which farm(s) unwittingly contaminated their hazelnuts. It may be impossible, but one alternative is for nut distributors to segregate nuts from their various nut supplier farms.”
    “Impossible”, John? How so?
    Couldn’t we just accurately and indelibly identify each lot of product from the time it leaves the farm and institute electronic/paper trail protocols to track its movements through the system to the consumer? You know, identification and traceability FROM the source to facilitate later traceback TO the source when routine testing pulls a positive?
    Oh, that’s right…your anti-food safety activist bosses at Food & Water Watch and R-CALF rabidly oppose identification protocols that might assist epidemiologists’ traceback to the ultimate source – to any producer who should be held personally accountable for product tainted at the farm. Accountability impinges upon a producer’s ‘personal freedom’ to do as they damned please, according to your activist handlers at R-CALF, right John?
    Heh, that’s rich; an anti-agriculture acitivist lecturing us on the futility of epidemiology even as he marvels at professional epidemiologists’ “uncanny” ability to do their jobs in obfuscated circumstances. Suggests a better alternative to identification and traceability protocols is irradiation to routinely sweep some producer’s sins under the rug.
    Nuts…how appropriate!

  • Donna Byrne

    This is so disturbing. One generally expects that when you only eat the part that’s never been exposed to the outside world, you’re reasonably safe from a mammal-gut pathogen like E. coli.
    Kudos to the Minnesota Department of Health and Team Diarrhea! I’m proud to live here (not that I had any role in anything as useful as this).
    Donna Byrne

  • Theresa Kentner

    I am very interested in learning how E.Coli O157:H7 was introduced into a non-meat item. Contaminated water, pickers?

  • John Munsell

    I suggest it may be impossible for nut processors to prevent mingling of nuts from various suppliers, as the processors may blend nuts from numerous suppliers into batches. Perhaps a nut processor could answer this question for us.
    Doc, I don’t where you obtain your fabrications about R-Calf and F&WW. Did you know that F&WW is totally opposed to irradiation? Your comments above lead us to think otherwise. Did you know that R-Calf strongly endorses Traceback legislation, and has taken an official stance endorsing it? Not according to your comments above. Your claim that F&WW and R-Calf are anti-food safety must emanate from The Wizard of Oz. But, let’s address a central issue here, that being producers’ culpability for “product tainted on the farm” as you stated above. Let’s start with beef. Cargill spent substantial funds last year to test the efficacy of vaccines at feedlots, with remarkable success, and will expand its testing this year. If an effective vaccine protocol can be developed, ranchers & feedlots will then have a valuable anti-microbial tool at their disposal, one not available in the past. I’ve not seen R-Calf’s stance on this newly-emerging intervention, but you must have insider information that R-Calf opposes vaccines. I’ll leave it up to you to research this issue, since you are apparently the premier expositor of R-Calf (& F&WW) positions.
    Now, how about nut growers’ ability to prevent contamination of nuts with salmonella and e.coli? E.coli outbreaks of non-pasteurized apple juice have occurred, because apples harvested from the ground can harbor fecal bacteria. Doc, I hope you’re not opposed to pasteurization? So, if nuts are sometimes picked up off the ground, are they exposed to an intervention step to remove potential contaminants? If not, they should be.
    So Doc, I must question your motives when you accuse me and ag producers as being opposed to traceback to the source. I challenge you: instead of casting aspersions against me and organizations which I endorse (R-Calf & F&WW), I challenge you to provide workable alternatives for current food safety dilemmas. What actions do you propose we should utilize to control the introduction of pathogens into our food supply? You and I just may discover that we have lots more in common than you think. Frankly, we must focus on potential solutions, than depend on calumnious remarks.
    John Munsell

  • John, you and your slick handlers at R-CALF claim to promote “trace back”…at the same time you all vehemently oppose ‘traceability’ (the NAIS debacle leaps to mind). Some clever double-talk – I will credit you all with that much.
    As for food safety, R-CALF vigorously opposed HR 2749. There is no confusion regarding R-CALF’s stance on food safety…if it might lead to producer accountability; unconditionally opposed.
    Re: the topic of e. coli contaminated nuts: For all we know, some small anonymous lot of those intermingled nuts, as cider apples sometimes are, were shaken from trees onto and scooped up from the ground where they came in contact with animal feces (coulda been an R-CALF member’s animals, for all we will ever know). Hence your haste to just irradiate the nuts, pasteurize the cider and let it go at that. Awww now, at the producer level mistakes will happen – let’s just let bygones be bygones, eh? No need for personal accountability by ‘small producers’, right?
    Sleeping with anti-agriculture sophists (like Food & Water Watch, and others) seems to have infected you good ol’ girls at R-CALF with a weasel-wording disorder. You disingenuously cry out to have food safety scoundrels hunted down (and lynched) without permitting effective identification and traceability – you insist upon protecting the anonymity of producers, thereby placing epidemiologists at a deliberate disadvantage, then you marvel when they succeed in spite of your cult’s passive aggressive obfuscation.
    Anyone, such as yourself, who endorses ridiculous scaremonger propaganda like “the Meatrix” and “Meatless Monday” has nothing in common with the sane majority of honest, hard-working professional food producers and the 6 billion, or so, food consumers they nourish on a daily basis. Suggesting we might share common ground is delusional. You and R-CALF have sold out to the self-same zealots who will ultimately destroy your industry, You have no credibility and you evoke no sympathy. You couldn’t have strayed farther from ground inhabited in common by sane, accountable, humanitarian folks.
    Enjoy your meatless Mondays, John. You’ve certainly earned them.

  • John Munsell

    Doc, first of all, tell me who you represent, to which associations do you belong? You are obviously anti-R-Calf, but who or what are you for? What are YOUR beliefs? You can’t exclusively be a critic, but must eventually provide your own positions, and I assume they must include some things you are FOR. An excellent example of your tortured lies is wishing me a meatless Monday, giving the false impression (you’ve a PhD in that) that I am anti-meat, or at least that I endorse decreased meat consumption.
    You should consider writing. Specifically, science fiction novels.
    Doc, Bill Marler occasionally has guest authors on this blog. Perhaps you could provide him an erudite Op/Ed article explaining and justifying YOUR positions. Dare yuh.

  • Doc Mudd

    John, I “represent” no one but myself and my family.
    I realize that doesn’t sound very impressive to you and your gregarious professional crusading cultists, but our little family has a stake in the modern food industry because we are all pretty hearty eaters (without being obese or diabetic, etc. etc.). Safety matters to us. Thrift matters to us. Call us old-fashioned, but honesty and integrity matter to us; we notice when those are compromised.
    I also have a soft spot in my heart for humanity, I guess, because I empathize with food poisoning victims and marvel at how we’ve been able to feed so large a global population. I wonder, with everyone else, what innovations are next in agriculture to keep us all so well and safely fed. I do not fear technology; I admire it and thoroughly enjoy its benefits. I value learning to dispel fear of the unknown. Sounds corny, I know, but I encourage the kids to feel intelligent understanding is well worth the effort of cracking a science book or two – ‘lazy, misinformed and frightened’ isn’t encouraged around here. So, I notice when undereducated overindulged whackadoodles organize to try to scare the bejeebers out of me with nothing more than loud obtuse opinions and phony propaganda. Kinda pisses me off, actually. Makes me want to call their bluff.
    When self-styled ‘activists’ deliberately attract public attention to their loopy ’cause’ they shouldn’t expect all of that attention to be flattering and they shouldn’t get their feeings hurt when it isn’t. I recommend thin-skinned whackadoodle crusaders stay within the safe confines of their respective internet echo chambers where dissenting opinion is carefully screened out. Out here in the real world the sanity and safety of your naive dictates are going to be scrutinized and tested. If that makes me a “troll” or a “shill”, so be it. Shilling for common sense and the scientific method is no embarrassment.
    [There’s your ‘op/ed’…doesn’t require more than a couple short paragraphs]
    I am not so much “anti-R-CALF” as I am ‘pro-common sense’, ‘pro-science’, ‘anti-hypocrite’ and ‘anti-anti-food sytem zealot’.
    If you good ol’ girls over at R-CALF are not ‘anti-meat’ (and I would have assumed you wouldn’t be), then you have a damned funny way of showing it cavorting with whackadoodle organizations like Food & Water Watch (who produce propaganda like “The Meatrix” and “Meatless Monday” to evangelize me into believing meat is the end of the world for my family and the planet).
    It makes no sense and I smell a rat. Whatever twisted anti-agriculture schlock you’re selling, John, I’m not buying. Not interested in wasting any time trying to guess cultist’s shady motives or devious politics. I’ll call your bluff and you show us your cards. Or not, your call.
    In the meantime, there are 6 or 7 billion people to feed each day and no intelligent practical alternative to our modern food system for getting that done (a dozen, or so, popular stupid hateful incomplete dreamy whackadoodle anti-agriculture opinions notwithstanding).

  • Sam

    I just have one question for Doc, and John: huh?
    Perhaps we could dispense with the snarky characterizations, and focus on the issue. Frankly, neither of you sound convincing.

  • Theresa Kentner

    Thank you, Sam, you took the words right out of my mouth.